Question: Must one wear a Kippa on one’s head at the beach? (Obviously, this refers to a situation where being present at the beach poses no modesty concerns, such as in Israel where there are kosher, separate beaches for men and women.) Similarly, when one wishes to recite a blessing, is placing one’s hand on one’s head sufficient to consider one’s head covered tantamount to a Kippa or is one’s hand not considered a head covering in this context?
Answer: Let us first discuss the obligation to cover one’s head when uttering the name of Hashem. We have already explained last week that walking around while wearing a Kippa is not obligatory according to the letter of the law, for when the Gemara (Shabbat 118b) states, “Rav Huna son of Rav Yehoshua said: I am praiseworthy, for I have never walked four Amot (approximately six feet) with my head uncovered,” this does not follow the letter of the law; rather, this is a pious behavior that Rav Huna observed. Nevertheless, we have mentioned the opinion of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l that nowadays when a Kippa has become the symbol to distinguish between Torah-observant and non-religious Jews, wearing a Kippa is considered more than merely a pious custom.
Clearly though, when one is at home and has just woken up from his sleep or when one is at the beach in a place where people swim, one need not wear a Kippa according to the letter of the law. What is left to discuss is whether or not one must wear a Kippa on his head when reciting words of holiness according to the letter of the law.
The Baraita in Masechet Sofrim (Chapter 14, Halacha 15) states: “If one’s clothing is slightly torn or if one’s head is uncovered, one may read Keri’at Shema. Some say that only if one’s clothing is slightly torn may one recite Keri’at Shema; however, if one’s head is uncovered, one may not recite Keri’at Shema, for one may not utter the name of Hashem when one’s head is uncovered.” The Sages of the Baraita thus disagree whether or not one may recite a blessing or utter Hashem’s name when one’s head is bare. Maran Ha’Bet Yosef (Chapter 91) quotes Rabbeinu Yerocham who rules in accordance with the opinion that one may not recite a blessing when one’s head is uncovered. Maran rules likewise in his Shulchan Aruch (ibid).
We should point out that according to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, it is proper for women, both married and single, to cover their heads with something when they recite a blessing. This is especially true when they pray and recite Birkat Hamazon. There are several righteous women who actually behave in this manner.
The question therefore arises: Is placing one’s hand on one’s head sufficient in order to recite a blessing or does placing one’s hand on one’s head not help in this situation?
The Terumat Ha’Deshen (Chapter 10) rules that placing one’s hand on one’s head is not considered a head-covering, for the head and the body belong to the same body and the body cannot cover itself. Thus, one’s own hand cannot be considered a head-covering in this regard. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise. Nevertheless, he adds that based on the reasoning of the Terumat Ha’Deshen, if one covers another’s head with his hand, the other individual may, in fact, recite a blessing, for this hand is not a part of the same body as the head it is covering.
Summary: One who wishes to recite a blessing must cover his head with a head-covering, such as a Kippa or someone else’s hand. However, covering one’s head with one’s own hand is insufficient regarding this law and one may not recite a blessing in this manner.